The Dynamics of Photography

The Dynamics of Photography

What is your position? Without any context, this is a small question with countless possibilities for interpretation. It could be a query simply about geographical location – where are you? Perhaps the asker wants to know our status or role within a hierarchy. Or are we being asked to explain our beliefs on a multi-faceted topic, one that can be approached from many angles. Museum der Modern Salzburg dedicates its current exhibition The Dynamics of Photography. 7 Tentative Positionings to exploring the questions that arise when we dig deeper into this unassuming noun. Here, seven lens-based artists engage not only with places but also cultural, emotional, ideological and social matters. They probe themes of belonging, globalization or personal perspective. Curator Katherina Ehrl tells us more about the ideas that brought this show to life, the intentions of this exhibition and highlights some of the thought-provoking projects on display.

A: The Dynamics of Photography. 7 Tentative Positionings takes a different approach to the concept of “positioning.” Could you tell us more about this? Was this concept the starting point?
KE: The initial questions for the exhibition were: what is the meaning of positioning in a globalised world? Can we position ourselves at all? What possibilities are there? Of course, you can locate yourself physically. However, here we are not just considering someone’s location found using Google Maps or a GPS tracker. There are also the ways you locate yourself mentally, culturally or ideologically. This led me to two key questions. The first was: what does home actually mean? On the one hand, it is the place where a person is born but it is also the place where they experience socialisation – the core interactions that influence our attitude, character, identity and world view. Secondly: what is (cultural) identity? Is it something absolute and tangible or something fluid, a continuous and never-ending process? These are not new questions but they are important ones that I have been reflecting on for a long time. In recent years, they have also become a part of day-to-day conversations I’ve had in social and professional environments.

A: What drew you to each of these artists? How does their work resonate with the theme of the show?
All seven works shown in the exhibition scrutinise the ways people position themselves in space and time. These artists explore geographical interests whilst also engaging with cultural, emotional, ideological and social dimensions. The idea of the exhibition was less about showing specific artists and more about the subject matter itself. I was particularly inspired by how each creatives approached the subject from different angles. For example, Rudolf Zündel’s 1977 work Als ‘Tschusch’ unter Türken (As a ‘Tschusch’ among Turks) deals with the first generation of guest workers in Austria. The photographer inevitably enters an unknown society by travelling in a guest worker bus from Voralberg, Austria, to Istanbul, Turkey. This journey led him to pose questions that are still relevant today: What is it like to move around in an unfamiliar society? Can I integrate? Will I return to my home country? To my family? Am I scared?

Elsewhere, we are displaying the series razio (2018–2020) by the artist duo backhaus+Froschauer as well as Hubert Blanz’s two works 03-A Nanterre (2019) and 05A-Créteil (2020) from the series La Valeur de la vie. À la recherche des villes radieuses (The Value of Life. In Search of the Radiant Cities). Both artists focus on the city and the profound ambivalence of these places. Razio is a documentary photography project about planned cities in the region of Lazio, Italy, which was seen as testing grounds of Italian rationalism and illustrate its exponents’ ties to Mussolini’s fascist regime. La Valeur de la vie. À la recherche des villes radieuses also deals with urban planning but highlights social housing in the banlieues of Paris and the “ville nouvelles.” Cities are also the subject of Maurizio Cirillo’s 2020 series In meinem Radius (Within My Radius), which frames these spaces by a search for our relationship with our surroundings and environment. Like Zündel, Anna Breit’s series Facing Traditions (2021), Nilbar Güreş’ Coconut Cutters (2019) and Ferhat Özgür’s video work Metamorphosis Chat (2009) address questions of belonging and integration, whilst also challenging cultural and social norms and traditions.

A: Hubert Blanz presents us with a captivating series of kaleidoscopic photocollages in La Valeur de la vie / The Value of Life and À la recherche des villes radieuses / In Search of the Radiant Cities. What is this project about?
KE: The first part of the series title, La Valeur de la vie (The Value of Life), is a reference to the palace-like social housing complexes designed by the postmodernist architect Ricardo Bofill (1939–2022). These buildings are scattered across Paris and its suburbs. The second, À la recherche des villes radieuses (In Search of the Radiant Cities), is an allusion to Marcel Proust’s (1871–1922) seven-volume nove Search of Lost Time and Le Corbusier’s (1887–1965) never-realized urban masterplan: the Ville Radieuse.

In this work, Hubert Blanz studies social housing in the banlieues of Paris and the so called “villes nouvelles.” He researches the buildings, selects a few, visits them, and documents them in over 4,000 photographs. Both Bofill’s postmodern architecture and Le Corbusier’s city of the future were fuelled by the intention to improve people’s lives; the latter was even meant to harness architecture to help build a better society. Nowadays, most of the planned cities have fallen into disrepair. The people who live there are socially deprived demographics and they often experience high unemployment and crime rates. It is clear that the hopes of a better life that attended their construction have not come to fruition. However, Blanz is less interested in the concrete living conditions or the collapse of a social vision. Laid out as utopian architectural mosaics, his photocollages examine and reflect this backdrop of postmodern idealisation and what has become of it in their structure.

A: We see various kinds of collaboration in front of the camera, from the two subjects in Nilbar Güreş’ Cocunut Cutters to Ferhat Özgür’s mother and friend in Metamorphosis Chat. What impact does this have on the idea of “positioning”?
I think that always depends on the particular work. In this case, it is the approach or the way the artist works. Nilbar Güres’s image production is based on a performative approach. She always works with local people for her staged photographic work. Coconut Cutters is one of three photographs realised on-site for 2018 The Atlantic Project art festival in Plymouth, UK. In Ferhat Özgür’s video works, as in this case, the actors are often his friends and relatives. The same applies to Anna Breit’s photographic work.

A: What kind of experience do you want visitors to have when they enter this exhibition? How has the layout of the show helped you achieve this?
Globalisation has been influencing the world in many areas for some time now. Not only in the professional but also in the private context. More flexibility is required in all areas. I believe that we are all repeatedly confronted with questions about spatial localisation – whether short-term or long-term – but also about belonging and perhaps also question cultural and social norms. However, the latter should never go in just one direction. The seven oeuvres shown in The Dynamics of Photography. 7 Tentative Positionings represent different approaches to positioning in a ever-changing world. They are intended to encourage visitors to consider their own positioning from different angles. It’s an opportunity for attendees to open themselves (also critically) to “the other.” I think the works of Nilbar Güres and Ferhat Özgür in particular do this with a twinkle in their eyes.

A: What other exciting shows are on the horizon at Museum der Moderne Salzburg?
The Museum der Moderne Salzburg features two venues: The Rupertinum is a Baroque-era structure in the heart of Salzburg’s old town and the other one is a modern building atop the Mönchsberg mountain. The Museum is taking the 20th anniversary of its site on the Mönchsberg as an opportunity to place a focus on increasing the visibility of the collections entrusted to it. Two of the three levels will display exhibitions from these collections for most of 2024 and spring 2025. In 2024 the museum will also present the first comprehensive exhibition in the German-speaking world by British artist Rose English (from July 5), who is one of the most influential performance artists. Moreover, there will be a focus on the photographic work of German artist Sophie Thun (from October 4).

Museum der Moderne, The Dynamics of Photography. 7 Tentative Positionings | Until 7 July

Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. Nilbar Güreş, Coconut Cutters, 2019, chromogenic print, Austrian Federal Photography Collection at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, © Nilbar Güreş.
  2. backhaus+Froschauer, Pomezia_Acea Ato 2_3, from the series “razio,” 2018-2020, pigment prints on baryta paper, Austrian Federal Photography Collection at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg © backhaus+Froschauer.
  3. Anna Breit, untitled, from the series “Facing Traditions,” 2021, pigment print on aluminium Dibond, Austrian Federal Photography Collection at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, © Anna Breit.